I have some wooden cut out panels. I need to build an exact scale plan of them in illustrator or photoshop, so that I can create some artwork to be printed on vinyl.

I don’t have a scanner, and the shapes are quite complex, with some holes in (not just a rectangle).

My plan was to take a photo from directly above, then import this into a photoshop or illustrator document, measuring one edge of the object to get the scale right.

When I do this, there is lens distortion and the perspective on the cutouts looks wrong, because the wooden cutout is about 1.5cm deep- so eg the holes are cylinders and you can see the sides of the walls.

What’s the best way to do this? If I draw round the wooden shape, then measure it all? Scan it using my phone’s camera? Is photoshop or illustrator the best tool for this?

  • I could measure every hole, and every distance. I'm asking whether there's a better way to do this, given that I have access to digital cameras and graphic design tools. Maybe there's a workflow to this I don't know about?
    – tomh
    Jun 12, 2022 at 13:09
  • You can avoid lens distortion (barrel/pincushion) and perspective distortion in photographs by using a high quality telephoto lens - say around 80mm or so. It's not going to work with a phone though. Maybe if you know someone who has a DSLR or Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, you could get them to photograph it. You'll still have to create some kind of setup to make sure the object is perpendicular to the camera though - using a tripod, and some kind of easel/support for the object being photographed.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 12, 2022 at 14:54
  • Also to be honest, Illustrator is was not designed for precision CAD work - it's a tool for making graphics - like pretty logos, not for engineering or technical drawing projects. Photoshop is totally unsuitable - it's a raster image editor. Perhaps think about using actual CAD software for this kind of work.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 12, 2022 at 15:03
  • While CAD can make this easier illustrator is perfectly adequate. To be honest i would either use a caliper or use photogrammetry as basis. But YMMV. Anyway i would like to dispel a misconception of @BillyKerr its not really that illustrator is unprecise, it is as precise in outputting with a printer than any CAD known to man (Basically because printers share illustrators flaws). Its just that it is workflowvise a bit unsuited for the job. The cad can solve for your random measurements into a shape which in illustrator you need to do manually.
    – joojaa
    Jun 12, 2022 at 20:43
  • @joojaa what I meant was that Illustrator is not ideal for the job. Didn't mean to imply it wouldn't work - of course it will. It would be a bit like me trying to use Photoshop to design a logo - it will work, but its not really the right tool.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 12, 2022 at 20:50

2 Answers 2


This is merely speculation without any knowledge of what any shape actually looks like....

If possible, lie the object on a sheet of paper. Use a pen/pencil/marker to trace the outline of the shape onto the paper. If holes are too small to effectively trace, try to mark a reference spot — i.e. all holes have a "dot" drawn at the bottom center of them. Although if one measures the object, placing holes in proper locations should be a simple matter, unless holes are odd shaped. If detail is exceptionally minute, use a sheet of light vellum (so you can see through it) on top of the object and trace the edges.

Photograph the tracing.

While you'll still have some lens distortion, it won't be so much since the tracing is a 2 dimensional object. You can then correct the distortion by ensuring measurements are accurate, or add holes using measurements and placing circles/ellipses so the dot falls in the proper location.

Ideally, you'd scan the tracing - could possibly get that done at a "quick copy" shop rather cheep.

Frankly the problem you are facing with distortion would generally be similar if you attempted to scan the three dimensional object using a flatbed scanner (not many have a 3D scanner due to pricing, unless maybe you're a multi-millionaire.) In such cases, I've gotten great, or at least much, much better, results by tracing and scanning the trace.

  • It might be better to cut the paper with a exacto knife then drawing. Less paralax error
    – joojaa
    Jun 12, 2022 at 20:47
  • Depends..might not want to nick or scratch the object mistakenly.. hard to say :) cutting would work well too though.
    – Scott
    Jun 12, 2022 at 20:51
  • Cover the object with ink and use it as a stamp.
    – Wolff
    Jun 12, 2022 at 21:12
  • heh... yeah :) .. nail it to a wall and spray paint, photograph the wall afterwards.
    – Scott
    Jun 12, 2022 at 21:14
  • Why not spray paint directly on the monitor? Easy to trace afterwards.
    – Wolff
    Jun 12, 2022 at 21:17

Yes, i think photoshop or illustrator can handle very large scale designs. taking real life measurement of the object will certainly help in setting it up to scale.

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